Sunday, October 02, 2011


I saw a cool documentary a few weeks ago called "Forks Over Knives": (you can find it streaming online for free, but I think it's illegal so I won't post a link here)

Also, this summer I read a book called "The Thrive Diet" - it's by a triathlete who decided at a young age that he wanted to be an athlete who excelled on a totally plant-based diet. He started experimenting on himself with what works best, and his books/diet recommendations reflect his own personal experience. Despite it's 'slick'ness, I really liked the message and the information.

And, when I was a kid, I inexplicably was always convinced that lemons were the cure to cancer.

Where does this all lead? The basic linkage I'm making is in the message that our bodies function best when slightly alkaline. The ideal range is between 7.35-7.45 according to this website: Check it out because it has a full list of different foods that fall to one side or the other, and it's pretty comprehensive.

The pH scale goes from 1 to 14, with 7.0 being absolutely neutral, anything lower being acidic, and anything above being alkaline. So, for example, vinegar is around 3, while your average soap is around pH 9.

Though the foods we eat will test at a certain pH before we eat them, once they're in our bodies the way that we digest them can change the total pH effect they have- so when talking about eating we describe alkaline-forming or acid-forming foods, not just 'acid food' or 'alkaline food'.

Anyway! I thought I'd share this because it really, really corresponds to my own life experience with food. And, we're the best guinea pigs! I'm learning how to feed myself and listen to my body. Over the past few months I've really seen how eating fruits and veggies for most of the day has SUCH a different mood, energy level, etc, than if I eat mainly chocolate, bread, or other treats/convenient food items that cause my body nutritional stress.

Nutritional stress? I heard about this from that thrive diet guy - some foods are easier to digest, and some are harder. The harder, longer and more energy it takes for our body to digest something, the more nutritional stress our body undergoes.

Why is this important? Because we already have a lot of other stressors in our lives... anything you stress about causes a stress reaction in your body - (by the way, chemicals released during our natural stress reaction make our bodies more acidic) - which is added on top of the nutritional stress caused when we don't take care of what we're feeding ourselves. If you don't think you have a lot of psychological stress in your daily life - why add nutritional stress?

I'm sure we all sometimes feel tired or irritable during the day, often we don't really know why or we think "ah, bad sleep last night" or "ah, stressed out about work/school/home.." in reality, a lot of this is connected to what we are or aren't eating.

Test it out! Try for a day, or a week, really planning your diet around things that are easily digestible, which are mainly alkaline-forming. See what happens!

Cheers :)

Monday, August 08, 2011

Good neighbours

I have been thinking a lot recently about how lucky we are to be working next to two established organic farms as we progress in this project. Not only for obvious reasons, like the privilege of working on certified organic land (even if we ourselves are not certified) and gaining access to machinery that we otherwise would not have, both farms being nice enough to till our fields and retill once weeds took over some beds.  Side note, last year we spent a good day turning over our soil with shovels and manpower in only two beds before asking to use the Hort Center’s tractor. What I am thinking about is the access to knowledge and support on a level that we probably wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere. Getting advice, for example about how to make beets grow (stomp on them, they love good contact with the soil) and how to keep lettuce fresh on sweltering market days is certainly a plus. It’s great to share in the glory of the first summer squash, the first red tomato. I get the feeling that people are into this project and are happy to see us doing well. It’s interesting to think that in other types of work these farms would be our “opposition”. We sell our vegetables right across form Ferme Carya at the Ste Anne farmers’ market. Chances are if someone buys our carrots they won’t be going to Carya, and vice-versa. Where you would expect competitiveness there is instead a strong sense of community. It makes me think that even though technically we all need money to keep our businesses and projects afloat we are in this more for the movement toward more healthy land, food and people, first and foremost. 

Sunday, August 07, 2011


I went on a Wikitrail

/Wikitrail/: n. A haphazard path traced through the internet from subject to subject, with no particular aim in mind, mainly orchestrated by the phrases in a Wikipedia article which lead to other pages, and by the Google search engine

this morning, and I found out about a few things and people - best shared by sharing the links that lead me there:

Fukuoka Farming, "Natural Farming" or "Do-Nothing Farming":

The Soil and Health Library: This is an ONLINE library!!! You can get digital copies of books that are in the public domain, or out of print. I really hope you click this link and just see the kinds of books they're carrying.

Lady Eve Balfour & her Haughley Experiment:

The book "The Value of Voluntary Simplicity" by Richard B Gregg. (you can access it through the soil and health library for free, or buy a lifetime membership, which I did today :P)

Looks like I've got to go catch my ride (visiting some farms in Arundel today), even though my zucchini bread is still in the oven and has the dampest center I've ever seen! (I added too much zucchini, so it has too much water) What happens when you leave a half-baked bread in the oven and finish cooking it later? ..... I guess I'll find out this afternoon!


Friday, August 05, 2011


Such a nice week, so much sunshine. And Thursday morning was the perfect weather to harvest - clouds keeping us from burning up, air not too cool. Keeps the vegetables from getting soft while we clean them since our wash station has no roof.

Found out how to make a donate button using a secure payment carrier! Now on our website we can receive donations through Paypal. We also have a call out for ongoing donations of rubber bands, wicker baskets, and reusable grocery bags.

Also, found out about a family that's in the business of individual composting toilets - if you check out the Humanure Handbook (there's a link to it in the right side of our blog) you can see what they're all about.

Since the first time I ever used a composting toilet inside a building (not an outhouse, the Ecolodge in Moose Factory in northern Ontario: Cree Village Ecolodge) I've been imagining ways to retrofit all our buildings to allow for composting toilets. The experience of learning about composting toilet systems, combined with my first visit to a large scale water treatment plant in a typical city a few years ago, has made me yearn to live somewhere long enough or conscious enough to have composting toilets, or greywater systems, and stop using anywhere from 8-20 litres of FRESH water when nature calls.

An intermediate option is to modify existing toilets to have the 2-flush setting, which I bet you've seen at least once before. I was cruising the web and found a provider of a DIY (do-it-yourself) toilet adaptation to make your toilet have adjustable flushes. Great! See The Twoflush website. There are probably a lot of other ones out there. I've never known someone who changes a typical toilet so I don't know if it's 100% successful. If you try it out or have an idea of whether these modifications work, please comment!

When reading about the adjustable flush systems it seemed there were a lot of comments about how these systems are more common abroad than in North America. What exactly is it about our lifestyle, our social environment, the way we're taught and live, that we keep building and installing the less sustainable options?

Bye for now!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Midsummer update...whew!

If there is one thing I have learned this summer it is that time flies when you are farming. We had said we would be doing weekly blog updates but so far things are happening so quickly that putting it all into writing seems impossible. I will try. Here goes!

The main field has absolutely exploded with plant life. Our first summer squashes are appearing and all of our lettuces are either big and juicy or have bolted (made a crazy-looking upward spiralling mass in the heat, kind of a stress response "ah I'm boiling alive must make seeds!"). The peas came for two sweet weeks and are now yellowing, with the beans in full flower ready to be picked in the next week. I'm a little nervous about the upcoming cucumber explosion, there are thousands of beautiful yellow flowers that will soon be producing fruits as fast as we can pick them. We were a little late pruning and trellising the tomatoes, so those had to be cut to 1/3 their original size and strung up, a job that took a couple of us pretty much all week. But now instead of lying pathetically on the ground they are swaying in the July breeze. Everything looks great!

We have started selling at the Ste Anne's Market, which has been wonderful. We get up at 5 am, harvest and clean everything and make it to the market by 8:30 am (ideally, and usually). This experience may sound hellish to any non-morning person but most of us actually like it a lot. I myself am definitely anti-waking-up-early but at 5 it doesn't feel like an early morning, it feels like some other-worldy adventure. Being out in the deserted streets, getting to the field in the first light of the day, is actually quite pleasant. It's also really great talking to the other farmers at the market, commiserating over deer predation of lettuce and, of course, this crazy heat wave. This market helps to link us to the community and we already have people asking us about our produce, like our awesome candycane beets, and everyone seems to be into trading recipes and gardening advice. Definitely one of the perks of this project.

On a more personal note, we are all learning a lot about how to do this kind of work. When you are working with your friends and live close to the field it's hard to separate work time from down time. Maybe backyard barbeques aren't the most socially acceptable place to fret about how to suppress weeds, and maybe if you have already worked seven hours in the heat it isn't wise to keep going even if you physically can.

Farming is this infinite challenge in that there will never be a time when there is nothing left to do. You can be leaving the field and spot a patch of nefarious-looking weeds and spend the next two hours trying to get rid of them. You can always improve, always do something else, but sometimes it's a good idea to just take a break and take care of yourself. We're learning, but it's hard to just say enough is enough when you are passionate about what you are doing.

Okay enough about us, happy July and thanks for reading!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Rose, Bud, Thorn

Hey veggie-lovers!

It has been a very busy month here at MSEG! “How to summarize it all?” I asked myself.
Then, some wonderful friends of mine, John and Ryan, introduced me to “Rose, Bud, Thorn”, an appropriately botanical form of appreciative inquiry/general reflection:

Roses (highlights):

Rose: We have a tool shed (with tools in it!), and an irrigation system! We are finally starting to feel like a real farm, instead of just kids scratching around in the dirt. Thank you Alison for your kind donations. And well done Kourosh for setting up the irrigation, with the help of Stephen of Ferme du Zephyr.

Rose: Things are growing!
Pauline and Sophie transplanting onions
In the main field the carrots, beets, peas, beans, arugula, and mesclun that we direct seeded have emerged (in almost straight lines!), and are doing well. We were a little worried about the little carrot seedlings. The cotyledons (first leaves) of carrots are almost impossible to differentiate from grass, so we weren’t sure if the carrots had germinated at all. Then, over the last couple of days, they finally grew their true leaves, which are feathery and easy to identify… go little carrots go! Some of the beet seeds did not end up germinating though, perhaps because we didn’t ‘tuck them in’…beet seeds need good soil contact to germinate.
We have also transplanted a number of crops that were started in the greenhouse, including onions, lettuces, and cucumbers. It seems that onions need to be started in the greenhouse, as our direct seeded onions did not germinate.
In our Hort. Center plot, we seeded beets, turnips, kale, broccoli, squash, and pumpkins, and transplanted onions, scallions, sunberries, aubergine, and lettuce.

Rose: We have started to seed some of the herbs and flowers that will be companion plants for the cash crops. On Friday we seeded nasturtiums, orange flowers that you can eat, and which are good companions for cucurbits (squashes, melons, cucumbers, etc) and brassicas (broccoli, kale, cabbage, etc), because they deter a number of pests that target these crops, and also attract beneficial insects that eat or parasitize pests. They also attract pollinators and function as a ‘trap crop’ for aphids, which means they distract the aphids away from the saleable crops.

Rose: There are blueberries growing in the meditation garden! We thought it would be at least another year before the bushes would produce fruit.

Rose: Newspaper pots. They really work! Reduce, reuse, recycle...

Rose: We experimented with a biodynamic rooting agent recipe for propagating sweet potatoes from cuttings, and it worked! Here is the recipe we used:
Pauline making cuttings of sweet potato plants

Rose: Volunteers we love you! Thank you Sam (the mosquito army appears discouraged now that they no longer have you to feast on), and beautiful John, Salma, Molly, and Jeff.

Thorns (low points):

It seems that all thorns boil down to three things…Bugs, weeds, and weather.

Lady beetle used for white fly control
Thorn: Early in May, we had a white fly problem in the greenhouse. We decided to experiment with biological control (using living organisms such as natural predators to control pest species). We ordered native lady beetles from, and released them in the greenhouse. They didn’t stick around very long, but they did take care of the white flies before they went…success!

Thorn: Flea beetles are eating our arugula! We bought floating row covers to keep them off, but the covers were soon ripped up and deposited in a tree by some spiteful thunder-storm winds. Plan B involves better anchorage of row covers, planting trap crops adjacent to arugula and, if worst comes to worst, a botanical insecticide of some sort.

Thorn: Rain, rain go away! It’s not just MSEG that has been set back by the cold, rainy spring we have had this year. It seems that all farmers and gardeners in the area are a little behind schedule. Farming depends so heavily on the state of the soil, that nothing can be seeded, weeded, or worked until the earth is sufficiently dry.

And the biggest THORN of all: Weeds! More specifically - nut sedges. And I quote “the world’s worst weed”
This weed got out of control so quickly in the main field that we have had to spend much more time and energy than we anticipated fighting it back.

Buds (things to look forward to!):

Bud: The lower half of the field has finally dried out. Alex from Les Jardins Carya has prepared the beds for us and we can put in our tomato and tomatillo transplants this week.

Bud: We are beginning to realize that, as a demonstration farm, it is not just our growing practices that need to function as a model, but also our governance structure and working performance. We plan on making visits to other farms with alternative management systems, to learn about what might be the best option for MSEG now, and in future years. Starting this week, we have adopted an experimental cyclic governance structure, consisting of two-person management teams that rotate on a weekly basis. Exciting stuff!

Bud: At the end of this month we will be starting to sell our produce from our farm stand in the MS Lobby on Macdonald Campus. Thursdays 11am-2pm BYOBag!!

Beans and greens,


Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Never again will I mind being woken up...

Hey everyone.
A belated post about something that happened on April 23rd;
A sunny Saturday afternoon, one of the first real days of spring. We were out at the Meditation Garden fixing up our rose bed.

Note, when planting roses, or planting anything in raised beds, we learnt:
> The deeper the soil in your bed, the more drainage - the soil will get drier, faster. Know the root profile and soil preferences of what you plant to help determine how deep the soil should be.
> If the bed doesn't have sturdy walls that extend to the top of the bed, as soon as heavy weather comes the soil will leach down and settle lower than you intended.
Our soil was in a heap about 3 1/2 feet high - way too much for our roses. Also, the stone wall surrounding it had gaps and was only about 1 ft high at most. 

When we came to fix it, half of the wall was actually submerged in soil that had settled since the autumn. In our case, this meant 3 of our 5 rose bushes had from a quarter to almost a half of their roots exposed. I'm amazed the plants are alive after spending the winter like that! 

Continuing with the story... Pauline and I are shoveling away, removing soil from the bed so that we could level it, have the roses lower, and build a good retaining wall. We've removed a good amount of soil, and I'm shoveling into about a 2 ft deep pile, pretty indiscriminately without giving much guidance to where the shovel goes.
When, the shovelful that I've just thrown in the wheelbarrow catches my eye and when I look back, I realize! Somehow with the sharp blade of the shovel I've scooped up and out a hibernating toad, who is now blinking, startled and thrust into the spring sunshine.
He spent about half an hour with us gathering his wits before Pauline wheeled him over to our bed with Egyption onions and 1000 year old tobacco, where he leaped off and scuttled amongst the rocks.
Moral: what is wrong for the plants (i.e. a huge pile of soil) is probably not wrong for all the other organisms that like these habitats (toads, beetles, and worms to name a few)
And a personal moral: I have now given the most abrupt wake-up call I've ever witnessed (picked up and thrown, along with your bed, 4 feet through the air after sleeping for 5 months?) and in the future have no right to complain if I'm woken up as abruptly.
For lack of pictures I'd like to give you this link where you can check out our first youtube video (completely unrelated):

Happy planting!


Thursday, April 07, 2011

The first Seeding!

Hey folks!

Spring is finally here…and so the seeding has begun! Last week, we gathered in the greenhouse to seed collards and jalapeno peppers for our acre plot in Senneville, and three varieties of onions for our Hort. Centre plot. T’was a pretty nice time lining up the little seeds in their trays, getting some sun on our faces, and earth under our finger nails for the first time this year - beautiful!

The seeding schedule is planned according to the growth period and temperature tolerance of each crop i.e. how early can it be transplanted outside, and when will it be ready for harvest? The onions, and collards should be ready for transplant in about a month, while the jalapenos won’t be ready until early June.

With the onions and collards already sprouting, the only thing left to do this week is eat, drink, dance, and be merry as we welcome back the sun with the MSEG/McGill Feeding McGill Spring Equinox Contra Dance Party tomorrow!! Woot! We hope to see foodies, farmers, and friends from the downtown campus, the Ste-Anne’s community, and of course, from here at Mac.

Thanks so much to everyone that came to help seed last week! If you’d like to help with some seeding, or if you have any other questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to email us at, visit our brand new facebook page, or even better, stop us in the hallway for a chat!

Enjoy the sunshine!


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A New Year

Happy new year! (A little belated) This entry may be a little dry, but we want to get everyone up to date with what's going on so far with MSEG2011. You can see a map of our land and pictures of the garden coordinators if you scroll a bit : )

We're getting into full swing; our seed orders are in and some have already arrived! Our crop planning for both fields is done, though we're already a few days late in seeding some of our onions and eggplants, pending setting up our greenhouse space. Some exciting news is that we're going to be building a website over the next few months and also working on creating a new logo.

For this season Les Jardins Carya and Ferme Zephyr in Senneville worked with the Macdonald Farm to provide 1 acre of McGill field right next to these farms. This acre is available for McGill students to cultivate as long as there are students willing to do so. We owe a huge thank you to these two partners for this land donation, and will be spending time this summer working with and learning from them.

We will also be cultivating the same 1/4 acre of land at the Horticulture Centre as last year, provided for us by the Macdonald Horticulture Centre and Plant Science Department. The meditation garden which we built last year is going to be planted with permaculture principles in mind, and is located right next to the community gardens on Macdonald Campus.

Here's a map of approximately where our land is, courtesy of Google Maps:

Building on last year, our target market for this season is McGill students. We're still working on how to best market our produce to reach the widest audience, on and off campus. In addition we're looking into providing weekly produce for Herb's Cafe in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, and hope to have a table at the Sainte-Anne Farmer's Market.

Our crops have been planned so that we will have a large quantity of vegetables that will be available throughout the fall, and many storage veggies to keep into the winter. This was intentional, since a certain percentage of our crop will be donated to the Mac student group Happy Belly, which provides a once weekly free lunch at Mac during the school year using items from grocery stores which have been taken off the shelves, some bought ingredients, and MSEG produce.

The students who are working this summer came forward in the fall expressing interest in either continuing or starting to work with MSEG. The garden crew for 2011 is:

Anna Elbon - 3rd year Ecological Agriculture student
Kourosh Mohtashami - 3rd year Bioresource Engineering student
Sophie Price - 4th year Zoology student
Pauline Richard - 2nd year Agricultural Economics student

Alice Pradel - 3rd year Ecological Agriculture student
David Crook - 3rd year Plant Science student
Emily McGill - 4th year Bioresource Engineering student

Website developer:
Jerome Boisvert-Chouinard - 1st year Bioresource Engineering student

Our funding applications are in for the Sustainability Project's Fund and Macdonald Campus Students' Society. Before further reviewing by either of these parties we're planning to submit our business plan, which will give us and them a better idea of how our operations are being planned for this season, and especially what changes are being made from last year.

What we're up to this week:
- Prepping our business plan; do you have any tips? Email us!
- Meeting on Wednesday evening
- Thinking up website content
- Confirming greenhouse space and timeline
- Purchasing soil for seeding in the greenhouse
- Alot of other research to prepare for the season!

Happy gardening! :)